Politics World News

US threatens more action against Turkey unless pastor freed

Written by Maritime First

…As Senators, Reps’ meeting ends in deadlock over N189bn INEC budget***

The US has threatened to impose more economic sanctions on Turkey if it does not free a detained American pastor.

Andrew Brunson has been held in Turkey for nearly two years over alleged links to outlawed political groups.

The dispute over his release has seen the two Nato allies impose tariffs on one another’s goods.

This has worsened a crisis for Turkey’s currency, the lira, which has lost about a third of its value against the dollar since January.

The crisis has prompted widespread selling in other emerging markets, sparking fears of a global crisis.

What is the new threat from the US?

The lira has staged a small recovery but that is threatened by a fresh tweet from US President Donald Trump.

He said early on Friday that Turkey had “taken advantage of the United States for many years” and that he was “cutting back on Turkey”.

On Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him [Mr Brunson] quickly.”

Last week, the US doubled its tariffs on metal imports from Turkey.

Turkey vowed it would not succumb to threats.

A court refused to release Mr Brunson, and the the government in Ankara increased tariffs on imports from the US of cars, alcoholic drinks and leaf tobacco – and the lira recovered slightly.

Why this tension between Nato allies?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the US of trying to “bring Turkey to its knees”.

Ankara accuses Mr Brunson – who operates a tiny evangelical church in Izmir – of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party and the Gulenist movement, which Turkey blames for a failed coup two years ago.

Mr Brunson has denied charges of espionage, but faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

The US insists the pastor, a long-time Turkish resident, is “a victim of unfair and unjust detention”.

Mr Trump described him as “our wonderful Christian Pastor, who I must now ask to represent our Country as a great patriot hostage”.

The influential Protestant evangelical church in the US is a major support base for Mr Trump.

Mr Erdogan is angry that the US has not taken more action against the Gulenist movement and what he said was a failure “to unequivocally condemn” the 2016 coup attempt. The US has refused to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

US support for Kurdish rebel groups fighting Islamic State fighters in northern Syria is another major difficulty, given Turkey’s battle against a Kurdish insurgency in its own country.

Mr Erdogan wrote in the New York Times earlier that unless the US changed course, Turkey would look for new friends and allies.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visited Ankara on Tuesday, branding the US sanctions an illegitimate policy.

It’s an awkward triangle, given that Turkey is a Nato member, Russia is Nato’s number one threat and the organisation is obliged to defend any member that is attacked.

In the meantime, the meeting between senators and members of the House of Representatives over budget for Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Thursday, ended in a deadlock.

INEC is seeking budgetary approval of N189 billion to conduct 2019 general elections. The meeting came to a stalemate as the lawmakers could not agree on the figures presented to both chambers of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari and that of INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu. Against this backdrop, the lawmakers have summoned the INEC boss to appear before the joint committe of the Senate and House of Representatives today to throw light on the grey areas that had been discovered in the budget proposal. While Buhari requested N143 billion for the commission, Yakubu’s was N189 billion. According to the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North), the joint committee will make its position known in a statement at the end of today’s meeting.

Addressing journalists, yesterday, in Abuja after the meeting, which started 3.30 pm and ended 4.30 pm, Nazif assured Nigerians that as lawmakers, they would ensure that INEC conduct credible, free and fair elections in 2019. He said:  “As we are all aware, Wednesday, we invited the chairman of INEC, who was in the National Assembly to address the House of Representatives as well as the Senate. And today (yesterday), our duty and responsibility was to try to harmonise what transpired between both houses and ensure that we cross the t’s and dot the i’s. “The whole meeting was called consequent upon the letter of Mr President requesting supplementary and virement for the general elections of 2019.

“We have done what we needed to have done. And we have realised that there are a little bit of differences. In view of that, it is the opinion of members of this joint committee that we invite the chairman of INEC for further clarifications tomorrow (today)  at11am. “From there, this committee will make a press statement and we will inform Nigerians of our position. I want to use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that this joint committee is committed to ensuring credible, free and fair elections for 2019.”

But the disparity led to a stalemate when the committees at a joint sitting wanted to approve the budget estimates, as some of the members argued that approval should be solely based on request by the President, while others argued for N189 billion approval INEC sought. Consequently, they resolved to summon the INEC boss for more clarifications on N189 billion budget proposal.

BBC with additional report from Vanguard

About the author

Maritime First